Academics & Research / Fall 2017

One Book program provides community reading experience for new Pioneers

J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” is the 2017–18 selection for One Book One DU, a common reading program that asks first-year students to explore a single text and examine the many ways it is viewed by others.

When the 1,400-plus members of DU’s Class of 2021 arrived on campus in early September, they shared at least one thing in common: J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.”

The bestselling memoir, which chronicles what the author calls “a family and culture in crisis,” is the 2017–18 selection for One Book One DU, a common reading program that asks first-year students to explore a single text and examine the many ways it is viewed by others.

“This is a program for students to reflect on who they are and what they are about to do in this transition,” says Jennifer Karas, associate provost for academic programs. “[It’s about] how do you make new community? How do you become a member of an intellectual community?”

Now in its second year, One Book One DU sends incoming first-year students a book to read over the summer. They are also called on to respond to a prompt. For Vance’s account of his troubled upbringing in Appalachia, the prompt aimed to stoke empathy: “Think of a person whose story has left a deep impression on you. Tell their story.”

Responses — a written essay perhaps, or a performance piece or visual production — were routed to orientation leaders and faculty members teaching first-year seminars, where responses were used to enrich discussions.

“Hillbilly Elegy” offered fodder for explorations of everything from the culture of poverty to the opioid crisis and the economic devastation of rural and small-town America. To keep the conversation going, Karas plans to schedule a series of faculty panels touching on some of the book’s themes — perhaps an economist will examine the question of social mobility, while a sociologist will speak to culture and identity and a geographer will address the book’s environmental landscape.

With One Book One DU, the University joins a host of institutions that begin building community well before students move into residence halls. “So many institutions have a common reading program. It’s fun. It’s a way to engage people over the summer,” Karas explains, noting that each institution has its own take on the program. Some choose a book by a famous alum; others plunge students into the classics. Washington University, for example, asked the Class of 2021 to read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which turns 200 in 2018. Students at Texas State University, meanwhile, read Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” a lawyer’s account of representing a client on death row.

DU’s twist on the program — with its coordinated prompt and months’ worth of programming — grows out of the DU IMPACT 2025 strategic plan, which calls for enhancing the holistic learning experience and building an inclusive community.

In a letter on the opening page of a special version of the book printed for DU, Chancellor Rebecca Chopp set the tone for the discussions to come. “As you read ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’” she wrote, “I hope you will begin to think about how your environments and experiences shaped you — and how you can learn from your colleagues’ backgrounds and experiences. … We will learn from each other. That’s the adventure of education.”

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*